Un-control – UPDATED

On a more serious, note the murderous rampage of another fucknuts with a couple of guns has made news here too, and I couldn’t help but notice that the echoes of the shots were barely over before the first calls for a review of Britain’s gun laws were made. If the word ‘review’ was meant literally, i.e. a full and unbiased look at what’s working, what isn’t and what does nothing but pander to idiot tabloid journos who seem get most of their knowledge about guns from Bruce Willis movies, then I’d be all for a review as well. However, I suspect ‘review’ in this instance is actually code for ‘let’s ban the small number of guns we hadn’t already got round to’, and if so they need to understand that like most (all?) bansturbation it’s at best useless and at worst counterproductive. As far as gun control goes I explained why at some length more than a year ago and so I really can’t add much to what I said then.

… the next Michael Ryan or Thomas Hamilton will not be prevented from killing by the UK’s strict gun laws when they can achieve as much carnage or more by means of a home-made bomb constructed from legal, easy to obtain products. The IRA have proved that with diesel/fertiliser bombs, David Copeland proved it with bombs made from fireworks, and of course more recently the London suicide bombers in 2005 murdered more than 50 with peroxide based bombs followed shortly after by a similar unsuccessful attack and further attempts in 2007 using gas cylinders in cars. Frankly if I went nuts and wanted to maim and kill as many people as possible guns look like the second best choice anyway. So what do we do if we are trying to legislate away the dangers of madmen? Ban motor fuel, fertiliser, fireworks, hair products and barbie cylinders? That’s obviously ridiculous, though there’s perhaps an argument for restricting fireworks to professional displays in Australia where the whole bloody place might go up in smoke. The only real difference is that such things, along with the more mundane items like golf clubs and kitchen knives used in one-off murders, lack the emotive element that has been attached to guns in relatively recent times (more on that later).

But let’s assume that deranged lone psychos are different. I think there’s some justification for it. Mostly they almost certainly intend to take their own lives and to murder as many people as possible beforehand, and I think that creates a terrible freedom inside their own heads. Laws and morals and the ability of the criminal justice system to arrest, try and imprison them have absolutely no meaning anymore, and that sets them aside. The IRA and similar terrorists are politically motivated and generally intend both to live and to evade arrest, unlike the gun wielding nutjobs. Copeland had more in common with the Ryans, Hamiltons and Kretschmers of this world in that his crimes were driven by an insane hatred but again, it’s likely that he intended to get away with it. The London suicide bombers certainly intended to die in the process of committing their murders but differ from gun wielding nutcases in that their chosen means of murder prevents them from seeing the results. I suspect the lone psycho likes guns as they derive a twisted pleasure or sick satisfaction every time they aim at someone and pull the trigger. While this initially sounds like a good argument for removing guns as a means for these maniacs to commit mass murder the best such laws can achieve is to make them choose what they would view as a less satisfactory method. I doubt they’d be too disappointed if they listened to an explosion they’d caused from a distance and maybe got the kicks from watching the news reports. But let’s say they really want a gun. Well since they’re planning to break laws about killing people should we believe that the law banning guns is going to put them off for one nanosecond? If a gun is what they really want then won’t they simply try to get one (or more) illegally? It’ll be harder, but how hard is it really? Currently this guy is on trial for ordering gun parts from outside the UK and having them mailed – yes, mailed – to him. He says he planned to kill himself and while he may well honestly not have intended to hurt anyone else you have to wonder a bit about his state of mind. Still, the point is that he succeeded in getting a couple of guns and was in the process of getting at least one more. This kid bought a Taser, illegal under firearms laws in the UK, on holiday and simply brought it home. From time to time investigative journalists in the UK have shown that getting illegal guns is far less difficult or expensive than we’d like to think, and I think it’s safe to assume that the Northern Irish Peace Process didn’t allow legal ownership of the weapons used to kill two soldiers (and injure a couple of pizza deliverymen) and a police officer recently. So illegal guns are there for those who really want them. Now since we are talking here about someone who is planning nothing less than a massacre should we imagine that the fact that guns are illegal would put them off? They won’t care what’s banned – that terrible freedom they have renders all laws impotent. The absolute best society can hope for is that by trying to get illegal guns they would come to the attention of the police (like the guy in Scotland ordering gun parts, though remember he did get two guns before he was caught) and be stopped in time, but in the real world the ability of law enforcement to control the supply of illegal guns is a numbers game… If enough come in some will get through, and if a small, heavily populated and fairly wealthy island nation like the UK can’t prevent it then what country can? … Passing a law won’t help when there are people willing to ignore it …

Okay, since we don’t try to ban or restrict other items misused for murderous purposes why does society treat guns differently? Well guns kill people, the banners say. Pro gun people invariably reply that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. A variation is this:

“You take two people. You give one a gun, you give one not a gun. The guy with not a gun goes up to the person. ‘Bang,’ he shouts. ‘Bang, bang, ratatatt, bang. Boom. Explosion. Your hair’s exploded. Bang, you’re dead now.’ The person is still alive. Then the person with the gun comes up. Boom – they’re cut in half. And I think the gun may just have helped with that.” – Eddie Izzard

Well yeah, Eddie it did help, but that’s all it did isn’t it? And are you forgetting the role of the guy who pulled the trigger? I guarantee the gun didn’t pull it’s own trigger and only wanted the guy there to carry it around. And what if it wasn’t a gun at all? What if we say:

You take two people and you give one a cricket bat and one not a cricket bat. The guy with not a cricket bat goes up to the other one and says ‘Thump. Thump, thump, crunch, splat. Squelch. Your head’s split open. Thump, splat, you’re dead now.’ The person is still alive. Then the person with the cricket bat comes up. Wallop, their skull’s caved in. And I think the cricket bat may just have helped with that.

Substitute gun with cricket bat, golf club, car and a million other things and you can always say that those other things helped, but it doesn’t make anyone but the user culpable. Never mind, Death Star Canteen was hilarious. Perhaps Eddie or someone else trying to prop up this argument might say that guns are different because they’re designed with the sole purpose of killing. Nope, sorry but that does not hold water either. Even ignoring guns intended for defensive/non-aggressive use against people (e.g. police weapons, sidearms for military aircrew or other vehicles where they don’t have room for rifles) when sporting guns are considered in detail it falls apart. Yes they certainly can be used to kill, but so can kitchen knives, golf clubs, broken beer glass or even a heavy ashtray. Yet the kitchen knife is not a sword, the beer glass is not a dagger and the ashtray is not a club. So it is with sporting guns, which I believe should be distinguished from true weapons since their designers clearly made them with something else in mind. … What if the anti gun people suggest that since the first guns were intended to be weapons all guns should be banned? Sorry, but we should no more hold that against their sporting descendants than we should blame 21st Century Germans for the Holocaust or the current Pope for the Crusades. If we do we might as well consider that the javelin was a weapon before it was an athletic event and that Olympic archers are use bows not fundamentally different from those that killed thousands at Agincourt alone. But neither javelins nor archery attract the emotion attached to guns. And I can’t think of anything but that emotion that causes people to want to ban one thing with a deadly use and ignore vast numbers of others.

[There’s an element of this hoplophobia being media driven.] People now can grow up in the most peaceful area but see and hear news of violent death on a daily basis in their living rooms, and the media have a fixation when guns are involved. Even in the “culture of gun ownership” that many Europeans view the US the media have been known to report gun murders luridly and overlook similar body counts achieved by more mundane means. For example, on August 10th 1999 a racist madman in California by the name of Buford Furrow wounded 5 people, 3 of them children, at a Jewish community centre and murdered a Hispanic postman about an hour afterwards. This was barely 4 months after Steven Abrams, also of California, killed 2 children and injured 4 others along with a teaching assistant, apparently on the spur of the moment. Were we to go by the numbers of victims we would expect roughly equal reporting with perhaps slightly more given to the Abrams case just because of the body count. In fact one received nationwide media coverage and the other barely made any news outside California. One of these headcases has a Wikipedia entry and one doesn’t. The difference – Furrows used a sub-machinegun and pistol while Abrams simply drove his car through the playground fence and mowed down as many as he could before crashing. It seems that even in the supposed home of the gun the means of murderous crimes are what makes the news rather than the number or age of the victims. … it’s hardly surprising that society as a whole has become gun phobic despite the plain fact that though guns have been the means by which many people put many others to death a gun itself is little more than a few lumps of metal, wood and plastic if not actually being held. If this sounds strange consider that a parked car with the engine off and the handbrake on is physically incapable of crashing into anything, but when driven can be quite deadly either through design (e.g. Steven Abrams) or negligence (e.g every careless twat on the freeway).  

Probably the best argument against privately held guns, recreational or otherwise, is that the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few and that it’s necessary for public safety, but if you think about it that’s not an argument that’s healthy for civil liberties because you can apply it to so much more than just guns. Where do you want to draw the line and what’s to stop it being moved by someone else in the future? I believe that the individual has the natural right to do whatever they want providing it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s right to do likewise, and I rank that principle rather higher than the idea that the many need anyone who wants a gun to be presumed potentially guilty of a future gun crime. Still, I might be swung if it could be demonstrated that high rates of gun ownership inevitably accompanies high rates of gun deaths, and that’s where it goes a bit wobbly. We should count only homicides and maybe accidental deaths because a fair number of gun deaths are suicides, and it’s a reasonable assumption that in the absence of guns they’ll just stick their heads in the oven or something and the number of deaths won’t change. Normally the rate of gun violence in the USA is brought up at this point, and it is true that America has both a very high level of gun ownership and a much higher rate of gun deaths than most western nations. However, when looked at in detail the correlation between gun ownership and violence breaks down. Firstly, if 2001 is a typical year, and I don’t know of any reason why it wouldn’t be, well over half are suicides. The level of accidental deaths is about 2.5% of the total, which is pretty bad but arguably could be improved with better training for gun owners. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s very very low compared to car crash deaths, almost all of which are going to be unintentional. That’s despite there being more guns (PDF) in the US than cars, bikes, trucks and buses put together. Secondly, while the famous Second Amendment and various federal gun laws apply in all states, both local gun laws and rates of gun violence vary from one state to the next. Washington, DC has a shocking homicide rate (nearly 6 times the national average and about 400 times that of the UK), often involving the use of guns, and yet until recently had extremely strict gun control laws that were comparable with those in the UK. In fact handguns were effectively banned there two decades before the UK, although it’s only fair to point out that the UK has never had a rate of gun ownership comparable to that in the US. Conversely some states with very relaxed gun laws have a far lower rate of gun crime. Vermont has virtually no gun control law at all and the total homicide rate is less than half the US national average and gun homicides make up only a fifth of those – it has the second lowest rate of gun homicides the US. How is it possible to argue that tough gun laws make us all safer and very loose control is dangerous when Washington is a relative bloodbath and Vermont isn’t? Or to put it another way, how is it possible when the murder rate is roughly the same in Vermont as Scotland? This is used by some pro-gun people to argue that more gun ownership actually increases public safety and fewer guns just allows criminals with illegal guns a free rein to terrorise the innocent. Personally I think there may be something in that but it’s a bit of a stretch since the relationship across all states doesn’t seem to be linear, and in any event correlation no more proves causation than do correlations between high gun ownership and high gun crime. But a poor correlation should certainly dent any confidence in causation, and Vermont, Scotland and Washington show that the correlation between liberal gun law and gun crime just doesn’t exist. …Looking to the past, the UK has not had gun laws for as long as many people suppose and had far less gun crime than it does now. Pre gun control Britain was, believe it or not, a safer place to be. Well, not safer as such, but despite guns being legally in private hands you were very unlikely to be shot before the cholera or something got you.

It might come as a surprise to a lot of Brits that actually guns have not always been banned, but it’s true all the same. The 1689 Bill Of Rights states:

“That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.”

Think about that. But for those last five words the UK today might resemble the USA far more closely in the numbers of privately held guns, but since that last clause implies a changeable law it has been altered so as to allow practically no arms at all. Yes, the “which are Protestant” bit is unfair but I think it was dropped a while afterwards, but in practical terms the whole sentence has become irrelevant now. The Bill Of Rights is still law so subjects may still have weapons “as allowed by law” but practically nothing, and certainly no firearm, is “allowed by law” now. UK gun control began in 1903 when an act was passed that made a licence necessary for possession of some handguns, although getting one wasn’t expensive. Before then obtaining a gun, even a handgun, was a trivial exercise since common law accepted arms for defence as a right. Even after 1903 those whose guns required licences could get them from the Post Office. While guns were not possessed by a majority before then people certainly had them in significant numbers even while the police did not. On one occasion unarmed police chasing armed robbers borrowed guns from passers-by, and were actually joined in the pursuit by other armed citizens. Can you imagine that happening today? Most C21st Brits would be aghast that citizens were armed, and the relationship between police and citizens has deteriorated enough that some would be equally amazed that people risked their lives to help the officers. And yet gun violence was lower than in today’s UK. Again, I stress that I don’t claim that this proves that more guns equal less crime but it does, aha, shoot holes in the argument that more guns means more violence.

And one point I want to add to that now that didn’t occur to me at the time is that if you do believe that more guns equals more violence then what the fuck are we doing here in Victoria by letting thousands of people walk around all day with guns as part of their jobs? The guns will drive them mad and make them all deranged, rabid, sociopathic killing machines, yes? Except they’re clearly not and they’re no more likely to become so than the rest of us. Something else the hoplophobes haven’t considered.

[I suspect that]the true correlation is between rates of gun violence in a given area and the number of people prone to violence that live there. I can’t think of an easy way to test this unfortunately, but it would explains why gun laws and gun violence do not necessarily correlate well. It is also interesting to compare the gun homicide and total homicide rates in the USA to that of the UK or Australia. The UK has very strict gun controls, Australia a little less so and the US as a whole has quite liberal gun laws, though quite strict in certain places. While the gun homicide rate in the US is about 10 times that of Australia and 25 times that of England and Wales, the total homicide rate there has fallen in recent years (PPT) while in the UK it’s increased significantly and in Australia remained roughly the. During that time additional gun control legislation was introduced in the wake of massacres in both Australia and the UK, yet many US states have relaxed their laws in spite of America’s history of such killing sprees…

Direct comparisons between nations and states are difficult due to the subtle and not so subtle differences between them and such gun control laws as they may have, but we can see that there’s no clear relationship between rates of gun ownership, levels of gun control and rates of gun violence. Some places with loose laws have a lot of violence and others with similar laws are fairly safe and peaceful. Some places with very strict laws have low violence and while others have a bloodbath. Where there are violent people and guns there will be no doubt be more gun violence, but where a culture of gun ownership exists within a relatively peaceful society you just don’t get high levels of gun related violence. So surely where there are many gun murders the problem lies not with the guns but with the violent people, and since there are so many alternatives for them to maim and kill banning the law abiding from having guns does nothing with the possible exception of preventing the law abiding from defending themselves effectively if they need to. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not sitting with furniture piled up against the front door, scared to leave the house because I can’t take a gun with me. I’m not upset that I can’t have a gun to defend myself because I don’t really want a gun for that. In fact in both my countries the law doesn’t mind me having guns for the purpose I do want them for, which is smashing clay targets to bits. I don’t personally object to the requirements for safe storage as I’d take pretty much those precautions anyway for my own reasons, and I don’t mind the compulsory safety course here in Victoria which isn’t so different from what we expect of new drivers and motorcyclists. But I do think that my neighbour should be allowed to keep a gun in his desk (or wherever he likes in his house) to defend himself if he wants, which he doesn’t as far as I know but if not him then the guy across the street, or someone I’ve never met on the other side of town… or even you. I’ve never met you but it’d be pretty presumptuous of me to fear you because of it – I trust you not to run me over in your cars, so why shouldn’t I trust you not to shoot me if you had a gun? But while the rights issue and the self defence issue are fair arguments for those that want to use them my main objection is far simpler: gun laws just don’t make any of us safer and we’re deluding ourselves if we think otherwise.

Having said all that I’m pessimistic and I expect there will be more new gun laws that will do nothing but make life difficult for Britain’s recreational shooters while achieving square root of fuck all for public safety. The Elder Twin has, to his credit, said that knee jerk legislation is not a sensible move and that you can’t legislate against someone going batshit insane. And of course he’s quite right (yes, I’m slightly shocked at having to type that, but it’s still true). Unfortunately he is also something of a paternalist and therefore a bansturbator at heart, not to mention the leader of a coalition government and proud owner of a CV that suggests he’s not above courting headlines and media popularity. This is a guy who hugged a dog on a glacier and bought a windmill for his roof to suck up to the green vote, so should we expect him to stand firm if enough bansturbators demand tougher gun laws despite the fact that, as has been the case in the past, it turns out that this latest madman could have been prevented from holding guns under existing laws? Nope. We can hope, and sure as hell we should encourage The Elder Twin to walk the path of rationality rather than Righteousness, but prepare for a further loss of liberty. Unfortunately the hoplophobes and bansturbators are incredibly powerful – far more powerful in the UK than the comparitivey tiny shooters’ lobby in the UK – simply because there are a lot of them and they’re willing to use force and the threat of violence (courtesy of the state) against the liberty of others.

Given that the overwhelming majority of legal gun owners wouldn’t dream of abusing the privilege of owning firearms by using them to get their way the fact the hoplophobes and bansturbators are so keen on force is pretty fucking ironic. Shame it’s lost on them, really.

UPDATE – Let’s ban cooking pans and freezers. It’s the only answer to this, surely.


Posted on June 5, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Un-control – UPDATED.

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